The Shagbark Hickory (carya ovata) is a common hickory tree found mostly in the eastern United States from Maine to Tennessee but it can be found as far west as Missouri. Isolated populations of the tree can also be found in Ontario and in the mountains of eastern Mexico. The hickory can easily grow to over 100 feet tall with the tallest checking in at 150 feet near Savage Gulf, Tennessee. These trees are typically not used for decorative purposes due to their large size, slow growth, and their large taproot.
A mature shagbark is easy to recognize due to its shaggy bark. It produces a nut that is edible by humans and possesses a very sweet taste. The nuts are also eaten by squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, mice, black bears, foxes, rabbits, ducks, and turkeys. The word hickory even derives from the Algonquin word for the tree’s nuts. The nut though is not viable as a commercial crop as the trees produce them unreliably and when they do produce them animals typically eat them quickly. The wood itself is commercially harvested as it is very tough, being used for wooden tools that require strength like axe handles, ploughs, skis, bows, and drum sticks. The wood is also used for smoking meats and the bark is used to flavor syrup.
One American president had the nickname of “Old Hickory”. Andrew Jackson was as tough as they came in his day. He survived a sabre wound to the face for refusing to shine a British officer’s shoes during the Revolution and a bullet wound during a duel. He rose to the rank of major general in the American army and commanded American troops at the Battle of New Orleans, one of the greatest victories in American history. When Jackson began planning his tomb at his home called The Hermitage he planted amongst other trees six shagbark hickories. Those trees stood at the tomb until 1998 when a storm knocked them over, along with nearly 1,200 other trees on the property.